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Saving Central California Coast Coho: Celebrating People and Partnerships Behind Recovery

May 23, 2023

Marking the 50th year of the passage of the Endangered Species Act, we are shining a spotlight on the biologists and partnerships saving Central California Coast Coho from extinction.

Two women looking up and smiling at the camera Erin Seghesio (left), NOAA Fisheries’ Central California Coast Coho Recovery Coordinator and Jodi Charrier, salmon biologist, visit Lagunitas Creek in 2021 to monitor the drought conditions and its impact on CCC coho salmon living in the creek.

What’s it like to work every day to save a species? NOAA Fisheries is working to recover five West Coast Species in the Spotlight. They are among nine species nationally that NOAA Fisheries has identified as facing a high risk of extinction, and where concerted recovery actions can make the difference.

Each species has unique recovery challenges. Central California Coast Coho salmon are affected by drought and warming water temperatures. Their recovery depends on providing adequate stream flows, especially during the dry season.

Erin Seghesio, NOAA Fisheries’ Central California Coast Coho Recovery Coordinator, shared with us why these species are worth saving, her proudest achievements to date, and where more work is needed.

What’s one thing you want people to know about Central California Coast Coho?

Coho salmon are found throughout the North Pacific Ocean, in coastal streams from Alaska through central California. Central California Coast coho salmon are at the southernmost end of this range and have adapted through time to withstand the warmer stream and air temperatures associated with Central California.

Why is it important to protect and recover Central California Coast Coho?

Coho salmon are an important cultural resource for the Native American tribes and people of coastal Central California. My grandfather would tell me stories of when he was young and would go fishing in the Russian River for coho salmon. The salmon would provide a nutritious meal for my grandfather and his family. Those are experiences that I want my children to be able to have.

Read more about how early experiences inspired our staff to pursue careers at NOAA Fisheries

What are you most proud of?

The diverse partnerships we have built to support their recovery. For example, amid rising water supply temperatures at Don Clausen Fish Hatchery associated with the 2021 drought, the United Anglers of Casa Grande High School agreed to temporarily rear conservation broodstock at their school hatchery. The school hatchery was equipped with a water chiller. Jackson Family Wines provided funding. This was essential in saving these salmon, as the warmer water would have increased the risk of diseases, infections, and death. This partnership and action increased the survival rates and numbers of Central California Coast coho salmon released into the wild.

Coho salmon swimming in shallow water
Coho salmon in the Lagunitas Creek watershed. Known as “silvers,” coho salmon have silver sides during their ocean phase, along with dark backs. However, when they enter their spawning phase and move into freshwater, they develop distinctive bright red sides, dark spots on their backs, and blue-green heads. Credit: Marin Municipal Water District.

Where do we have more work to do?

Improving habitat conditions requires adequate seasonal streamflow with improved passage and habitat diversity to improve salmon population numbers. That is particularly true considering climate change. With the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, an unprecedented amount of grant funding is available to fund and implement passage and habitat restoration projects at a grander scale than ever before. We must also think creatively about conserving water for salmon and how water storage and changes to water diversion timing can leave more water available to salmon during the dry season. Partnership efforts between state and federal agencies, and outreach to non-governmental agencies and private landowners are critical to recovery and more important than ever.

Species in the Spotlight

We know we can’t do this alone. A major component of the Species in the Spotlight initiative is to expand partnerships and motivate individuals to work with us to get these species on the road to recovery.

The Central California Coast Coho Salmon Species in the Spotlight 2021–2025 Priority Action Plan details the focused efforts that are needed over the next 5 years. We prioritized the following activities:

  • Restoration at a watershed scale
  • Improving instream flow to support freshwater rearing
  • Continuing and expanding conservation captive broodstock programs to increase species and spatial diversity and support population recovery
  • Partnering and outreach to advance recovery
  • Monitoring and research of a dynamic and changing landscape

Last updated by West Coast Regional Office on May 23, 2023

Endangered Species Act